Of Amps And Audiophiles
Costa Mesans are a lot of things, but sheeple we are not. There isn’t a blindly-follow-the-crowd bone in a single inch of our city’s 16-square miles.
While the exact cocktail of characteristics that make up this phenomenon might be up for some debate, there’s no denying Costa Mesa is catnip for independent thinkers. That spark, spirit and spunk attracts a panopoly of interesting personalities who – if they don’t live here – definitely live to work and play here.
So we weren’t surprised by the creative-meets-unconventional machinations behind-the-scenes at our visit to Quilter Labs – a local manufacturer revolutionizing the modern-day guitar amp experience in both sound and size. The company’s on a mission to singlehandedly deliver the warmth and dynamics of traditional tube amps, but in a durable, modular, easy-to-transport, technologically-advanced package. It’s a big ask, but one Quilter Labs is well on its way to answering.
Name-Brand Patrick Quilter: The Man, The Myth, The Maker
photographer: brandy young
Founder of Quilter Labs, Patrick Quilter, has a kind of under-the-radar, industry-specific, cult following that makes him seem more myth than man. As one of the co-founders of Costa Mesa-based audio/video juggernaut, Quilter Sound Company (QSC), Quilter’s mark can be felt at movie cinemas, sports arenas, shopping malls, concert halls and other venues across the world. At least once in your life – and likely far more frequently than that – your ears have been graced by the powerful surge of his sound systems.
By all accounts, Quilter is content to continue inventing and innovating in the background, leaving management matters to his capable staff. His office-cum-laboratory at 1700 Sunflower Avenue suggests a beautiful mind – a mad scientist – or maybe a blend of both.
We were keen to hear from Quilter himself, but he wasn’t around when we showed up at the office. About a hour into our morning, he arrived, mid-interview, to announce he didn’t have time to talk to us because he got “got sidetracked on a Facebook political conversation that took 2 hours” and was now late for a lunch meeting. Then poof! He was gone.
Either Quilter fits the bill of “elusive inventor” more completely than we’d imagined – or amp-design is a club and we ain’t in it.
“Sorry about that,” said Quilter Labs CEO, Chris Parks, once it became apparent we’d been ghosted. “I know this might be hard to understand, but I admire the heck out of that man. I’ve learned more about the value of money and the meaning of life by being around him than I could have learned from all my previous mentors, combined.
“Pat has the heart of a creator, the desire to pioneer, and the drive to make the world a better place. Here’s a guy who could, quite honestly, call it quits and just travel the world in luxury for the rest of his life. But he’s still in here, six days a week; he can’t stop himself from creating.
“He’s oftentimes in the office until 11:00 at night, just relentlessly working at this. He is always looking for that next problem to solve, something tangible and workable to keep his mind and his hands busy. I truly feel as though I work in the presence of greatness, because Pat Quilter is a great man. This work is beyond a passion for him, it’s his legacy. And underneath it all, he really is one of the kindest, gentlest, coolest dudes I know.”
Brand Evangelist: Quilter Labs CEO, Chris Parks, Is A True Fan Of The Amplifier Products They Create
photographer: brandy young
It’s clear Quilter’s staff is crazy about the man, and crazy-loyal. The aforementioned “kindness” and “coolness” must trickle down because QSC consistently makes the list as the OC Register’s Top Places to Work in Orange County. And since Quilter Labs is essentially the creative, younger sister-company to QSC, a lot of the same corporate values seem to pass through.
And it’s not just the founder that makes them swoon, the employees at Quilter Labs – from the CEO on down – get all starry-eyed and dreamy whenever the conversation turns to the tech.
“Quilter Labs is building the world’s foremost guitar amplification products, period,” said Parks. “What Pat has been able to do is just plain revolutionary; it’s revolutionizing the industry which is why we’re the fastest growing amp company in the world today.
“So to understand why that’s true, we first need to look at how amps came about. Basically, it all started with the tube amplifier, which essentially grew up with the guitar. They were intertwined, conjoined twins; and all sorts of characteristics were built into the tube amplifier itself to cause it to behave, function and work the way it does. It was state-of-the-art in a lot of respects.”
As time went on, technology surged with solid-state amps that were cheaper to make and more durable, but lacked the color and harmonic content tube amps provided. Essentially, to achieve more consistent results, you had to sellout the soulfulness that only tube amps exemplified.
“Until now, it’s been ‘tube amps versus solid-state amps‘ and you had to choose,” said Parks. “But with what’s Pat’s accomplished, you now have a third choice – you can have it all. Quilter Labs has cracked the code on solid-state amps that play like tube amps.”
Quilter Amps: Made in Costa Mesa and Used by Musicians All Over the World
photographer: brandy young
“And this isn’t just some gimmicky, missing ingredient we’ve added to someone else’s amp,” continued Parks. “We designed our products from the ground up. Pat worked on developing this ‘Class D’ technology over a four-year period and – after all that trial-and-error, working out the bugs, and testing, testing, testing – he finally got a solid-state amp to behave in exactly the same way as a tube amp. It’s magic.
“I’ve had Grammy Award-winning artists walk around to the back of the amp and say to me, ‘Where’s the tubes at, son?’ They just can’t believe it because it behaves just like a tube amp, except for some really cool, solid-state differences. Unlike tube amps, it doesn’t go bad. It doesn’t deteriorate. It’s stupendously lightweight. It’s small, but power-packed so you get ten times the ordinary volume.
“And all of these features were done by design. We really thought about the musicians, how they live and work, and what they need from an amp. It needs to sound great, but it also needs to be small and durable and easy-to-transport and easy-to-setup.
“When you’re on the road, you don’t have a lot of space and every square inch counts. When your gear breaks down on the road, what do you do? When you’re in the middle of nowhere and your rare, 1960s tube amp dies – you’re done. As an artist, you need your equipment to be reliable and to perform. You really can have it all with a Quilter amp.”
Parks stresses the point that Quilter Amps aren’t all function – form played a big role in the design, too.
“Pat is a musician and an engineer,” said Parks. “He goes out and uses things, he plays. He thinks deeply about the experience of his products – what should it have and how will it be used?
“We are always refining and simplifying the user experience and cross-platforming as much as we can. For example, you’ll notice our Tone Block and Bass Block look almost identical: all the holes are in the same places so you can mount them in the same ways. We want everything to be as modular and easy-to-use as possible. I personally believe it’s the thoughtful, intuitive design of our products that’s the secret sauce to how we engage the market.”
So as an amp manufacturer at the cutting-edge of the industry, why choose Costa Mesa as home base?
“Well, from a practical standpoint, QSC is right down the street,” said Parks. “We can share storage space and swap components, as needed.
“Most of our vendors are right here in Costa Mesa and the surrounding cities. As a business, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place than Costa Mesa to have in-person relationships with the manufacturers of the components you need.
“I think people who move to Silicon Valley are crazy. Admittedly, it’s a think-tank full of coders, but realistically, if you’re in manufacturing, it’s way better to be here in Costa Mesa. We have so many people with aerospace or engineering experience coupled with fantastic companies and vendors. We’ve got John Wayne Airport so I don’t have to drive to LAX for my business trips. Everything feels like it’s right at my fingertips here in Costa Mesa.
“Keeping things local makes a huge difference when you’re manufacturing products. It’s a big benefit. For example, the other day we ran out of knobs, so the president of another Costa Mesa company, JG Plastics, drove on over and just handed me a fresh boxful. That could never happen if we were sourcing all our components overseas. And from a sales perspective, we are centrally located to all the major population hubs of California.”
“My home address isn’t in Costa Mesa, but I still live most of my life here, anyway,” said Parks. “This is where everything happens. My doctors are here. I do all my shopping here. In my free time, I’m taking advantage of the fun and recreation all around us.
“Business, personal, or otherwise – this city has a lot of things going for it. Costa Mesa is just about the coolest city in the world, and you can definitely quote me on that.” ♥
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